Talking Immigration with the Maryland Bishops: A Response


I have enjoyed the exchange about “Where All Find A Home,” the Maryland bishops’ recent statement on the Catholic response to immigration, in the columns and blog of This is exactly the type of conversation the bishops hoped would come about when they issued the statement and I know they are glad to see that the conversation is being engaged so sincerely.
One of the great beauties of the Catholic faith is that we are never left to address current affairs in a vacuum. We have the rich heritage of Scripture, Church teaching, and lived experience of our Catholic forebears to guide us. This is especially true for the issue of immigration.
To read the statement as a policy paper, however, is to misunderstand it. The bishops of Maryland — Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore, Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington and Bishop Michael Saltarelli of Wilmington — did not propose or endorse any policy positions in this document. They did not ask members of the faithful to support or oppose specific policy proposals or legislation. The statement was released in November specifically to avoid associating it with Maryland’s legislative session, which runs January through April. Policy positions on immigration-related matters are, for the most part, issues of prudential judgment (provided, of course, that human dignity and the welfare of families are protected). Once again, though, “Where All Find A Home” is not a policy paper.
The bishops merely presented Catholic teaching and asked members of the faithful to apply it to their conversations on the issue and to their interactions with immigrants. To declare that every human being has dignity and that the welfare of families must be protected may be a radical proclamation from some corners of our highly-secularized world, but certainly not from our bishops. To distinguish policy discussions from our private response to immigrants does not disregard policy, but helps us avoid reducing individuals to the merely political.

If I may briefly run down some additional points that might add perspective on the Maryland bishops’ approach to this issue: It was Pope John XXIII, in his 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris, who authoritatively declared the right of people to both emigrate and immigrate (“Among man’s personal rights we must include his right to enter a country in which he hopes to be able to provide more fittingly for himself and his dependents,” no. 106, see also no. 25).
Fifteen years before that, in a letter to the bishops of the United States, Pope Pius XII wrote that,
You know indeed how preoccupied we have been and with what anxiety we have followed those who have been forced by revolutions in their own countries, or by unemployment or hunger to leave their homes and live in foreign lands. The natural law itself, no less than devotion to humanity, urges that ways of migration be opened to these people. For the Creator of the universe made all good things primarily for the good of all. (Letter of December 24, 1948, quoted in Exsul Familia).
The “universal common good” and the plea to nations to respond generously to immigrants are strong statements directly out of the Catechism:
The unity of the human family, embracing people who enjoy equal natural dignity, implies a universal common good. This good calls for an organization of the community of nations able to ‘provide for the different needs of men… (Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1910-1911).
The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2241).
These papal documents and others concerning migration can be found here.
A final side note: My apologies for the fact that, until last night, the bishops’ statement on our website ( did not have its footnotes attached. We just launched our new website last week and since then have been working out the technical kinks. The footnotes are there now.

Mary C. Schneidau is the communications director for the Maryland Catholic Conference.

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